You researched and found the best doctor for you, so why would you want to hire a birth doula as well? The reasons can vary: You might be a first-time, inexperienced mom who wants a little extra TLC; you might have a specific birth plan and want to have extra help carrying it out (especially when you're delirious with pain!) Here are the top seven reasons why you might want a doula by your side even when you already have a top M.D. on the case.
"Doulas are important to women because their sole purpose is to provide physical, emotional, and informational support during labor and birth without doing anything medical," says Ami Burns, a childbirth educator and doula in Chicago and the founder of Birth Talk (birthtalk.com). Along with a doula, your birth team might include your partner, your doctor, nurses, medical students, and family members, but during labor they may have other things to focus on.
In other words, while your doctor is checking to see how far you're dilated and your partner is collapsed in a chair looking pale and pasty, your birth doula will be the one standing by your side, making sure you have everything you need for a positive birth experience. The same goes for a postpartum doula -- she can help you feel comfortable and confident in caring for your newborn and make sure you get enough sleep, eat healthily, and take enough time for yourself to fully recover.
Well before labor even begins, a doula can help an expectant mom wade through conflicting pregnancy advice and figure out what's best for herself and her family. "It's optimal for women to have consistent and accurate information regarding pregnancy and labor from multiple sources," says James Byrne, M.D., chair of obstetrics and gynecology at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in San Jose. "Doulas and other health educators are fantastic because they are able to reinforce these messages." Of course, a mom could search Google for answers to her questions or ask her doctor, but doulas are more hands-on than that. They offer advice in a personal, nonclinical way, and they can help answer questions that are specific to your pregnancy.
Having a doula by your side during labor and delivery can decrease your laboring time considerably. "If that's not incentive to look into getting a doula, I don't know what is!" says Latham Thomas, a maternity lifestyle expert and labor support doula in New York City and founder of Mama Glow (mamaglow.com). There are many other benefits of having a doula present: a lower rate of C-sections, less use of epidurals and other interventions, and more satisfaction with birth experiences. "It's a bit of a mystery why [having a doula has] medical benefits, but there are a lot of potential reasons," says Sunday Tortelli, president of DONA International and a birth doula in Cleveland. "A woman might feel more empowered to make decisions on her own behalf. Also, since she is being supported, she might experience less pain and ask for fewer interventions." Another reason: The less stress a woman experiences, the faster labor might occur. "Stress hormones may inhibit the production of oxytocin, which is what causes contractions," Tortelli explains.
Doctors and nurses are often happy to have doulas working with them. "Medical-care providers are watching out for so many aspects of the mother's and baby's clinical care that they aren't necessarily able to provide the emotional support a woman may desire in labor," Tortelli says. A doula can help a mother-to-be feel less anxious, and that sense of calm can often lead to a safer labor and birth. "A holistic care approach -- one that involves an integrated team, including a physician, midwife, nurse, doula, and other health educators -- allows everyone to play toward their strengths and provide the mother continuous support and education," Dr. Byrne adds.
Many partners want to be a rock for the mother of their child, but they may end up feeling as much fear and trepidation as the mother does (okay, maybe not quite as much). A doula can provide reassurance and affirmation for both parents. What's more, she can guide the partner to give more support to the mother. "A doula can help a partner feel confident and comfortable in assisting during labor. For instance, if a mom likes having her feet rubbed, a doula can teach the partner how to do it well. Doulas wants partners to be an integral part of the birth experience," Tortelli explains.
There are currently around 4,000 DONA-certified doulas in the world. That's not to say you'll feel a connection with any doula you meet -- it's important to take the time and do a little research to find one that's best for you. "You want to feel a level of chemistry, comfort, and safety with your coach, as she will accompany you during one of the most intimate and eventful experiences of your life," Thomas says. Your hospital or birth center might offer a doula program, so you can look into that for doula recommendations. Or just ask around -- chances are, someone in your life or in your social networks can recommend a trusted doula. Another option is to check out the DONA website (dona.org), where you can search for doulas near you. Ask your doctor, midwife, and childbirth educator for recommendations.
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